Michael Dowling, the president and chief executive of Northwell Health, told The Point on Tuesday that the first mention of him being considered for a post in the Biden administration came through a clipping from a local newspaper his family included in a letter it mailed him from Ireland before the election.
After the election, the story was picked up by a national Irish outlet, The Independent, which interviewed him for a Sunday article headlined: "A dark horse from Limerick as Biden’s new health chief?"
Dowling said he "had no clue" how the story came about, but he noted the national sense of Irish boosterism, especially because it considers President-elect Joe Biden a native son, and his own high profile there because of his TV and radio interviews about the coronavirus pandemic.
"Ireland’s a small place," he said. And so is Long Island.
The Sunday news account from the old sod went viral among LI power circles, which became consumed with concerns about Dowling leaving for D.C. and the implications that move would have. Northwell employs 74,000 workers, making it the largest employer on the Island as well as the state, and the largest healthcare provider in New York.
So The Point pressed Dowling for an answer. If the president-elect called and asked him to serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services, or in another prominent role, what would he say?
"I have no plans to go to Washington," he said Tuesday. "I like Long Island and I have a lot of work here at Northwell."
Still, Dowling added that he would be "delighted" to work with the administration, in an advisory role, on containing the virus or his other signature issues such as gun violence and racism as public health issues. He said he walked around Harlem Monday with several local ministers to talk about what needs to be done to improve health care outcomes for minorities, a disparity exposed by the ravages of COVID-19.
When pressed on what the answer would be if Biden actually called, he said: "I’ve spent 12 years in government. I’ve done that." Dowling headed both the state’s health and social services departments during the tenure of Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, and has been a high-profile adviser to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. But "picking up and moving to Washington for a first-time job" at this point in his life isn’t an attractive option.
But would he accept a Biden administration post out of a sense of mission or duty to serve? Dowling emphasized that no one from the Biden team has reached out to him. "I don’t expect to be asked and I would not do it," he said. "But it’s nice to be talked about."